Celebrating health

It's January, it's cold - even on the Costa del Sol - and pharmacies are busier than ever. Hands up who hasn't had a sniffle, a full-blown cold, or worse still the flu, since Christmas. Not many, I'm sure.

When the pharmacy doesn't have the solution, the next port of call is the doctor's surgery or, if faster attention is needed, the accident and emergency department - along with everyone else, it seems.

Depending on who you speak to and the experiences they've had, you could surmise that the Spanish health service - or the Andalusian one in our case - is both better and worse than the UK's NHS.

Some residents in Spain say they have received much better attention and treatment here, while others state the opposite.

The truth is that both services struggle to cope with the increased demand for attention at this time of year. And that's when all the horror stories come out. Doctors in the UK apologised at the start of the year for “third world” conditions. Malaga's Carlos Haya hospital is finally going to get its A&E section extended and refurbished more than two years after it was meant to be finished. Meanwhile the same hospital has fallen from first to fifth in the national ranking of “most complained-about” emergency departments.

Antequera hospital has gained an extra black mark this week after it was revealed that a man having a stroke was ignored in a waiting room for five hours. And staff at the Clínico Universitario hospital have been protesting over a shortage of nurses.

More spending is clearly needed in both the UK and Spain if they are to continue to be proud of being able to offer free healthcare for all, that glorious right that was celebrated so enthusiastically at the opening ceremony to the London Olympics in 2012. But that guarantee is failing if residents can no longer walk the streets with the confidence that if something happens to them they will be well cared for.

It's curious that we always raise our glasses and wish one another a healthy year at the start of the month when the most people fall ill. Perhaps instead we should be drinking to the health of the professionals and of the systems themselves, and to the wisdom of the politicians who could stop skimping and saving in such an important area, improve conditions and restore confidence.